Filling a Gap in Montgomery

Friday, April 11, 2008

THE DEATH this winter of Marilyn J. Praisner, a wellspring of sound judgment, fiscal prudence and deep knowledge over her 17 years on the Montgomery County Council, left an enormous gap. It also left the council divided on critical questions involving the management and budget of a dynamic jurisdiction of almost a million people.

That sets the context for an unusually important and hard-fought Democratic primary on Tuesday to fill Mrs. Praisner's empty seat in District 4, an exceptionally diverse area that includes Aspen Hill, the Route 29 corridor from White Oak to Burtonsville and a grab bag of neighborhoods between Wheaton and Olney. Since the district's 200,000-odd constituents are overwhelmingly Democratic, the victor in that party's primary is almost assured of winning the general election May 13. We believe that the best candidate is Nancy Navarro.

Ms. Navarro, current president of the county's Board of Education, is the only public officeholder among the candidates in the primary. That alone doesn't make her the best choice, but it does inform an outlook that is moderate, sensible and sensitive to an array of competing constituencies. In a slow-growing county that has nonetheless been gripped by venomous battles over growth, she possesses a vision broad enough to understand that the challenges facing the county may not replicate the debates of the past.

The Post opposed Ms. Navarro when she ran for the school board in 2006, thinking her too enamored of confrontational politics. We were mistaken. On the board, where she has twice been elected president, she has played a constructive role in guiding one of the nation's largest and best school systems, impressing colleagues with the care of her preparation and her passion for excellence. On the council, she would face a steep learning curve to master county government issues. But she has already shown a capacity for detail-oriented leadership that would serve her well.

Four members of the current council, as well as County Executive Isiah Leggett, have endorsed one of Ms. Navarro's primary opponents, Don Praisner, widower of the late council member. Their choice partly reflects a concern that Ms. Navarro, who has received much of her financial backing in this race from organized labor, would be in the unions' pocket. It's a legitimate worry, particularly during the county's current budgetary squeeze, when public employees unions, among others, will have to bear some of the burden. Ms. Navarro makes no bones about her alliance with labor, but we hope she will be sufficiently independent-minded to see that annual pay increases of 8 percent are simply not sustainable in the current budgetary environment.


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